Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Exclusive Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
Anthony Joshua v Oleksandr Usyk 1, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, Britain, Sept. 25, 2021. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 15 August 2022

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
  • Two-time British world champion faces Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk at Rage on the Red Sea in Jeddah on Saturday
  • 32-year-old Joshua previously won the heavyweight world title in Saudi Arabia in 2019

When Anthony Joshua steps into the ring to face Oleksandr Usyk in Jeddah on Saturday, Aug. 20, it will almost feel like he is fighting in front of a home crowd.

The British boxer, a two-time unified heavyweight world champion, will have a chance to regain the title he lost to his Ukrainian opponent last September when the two rivals meet in a rematch at Rage on the Red Sea.

The 32-year-old has made Jeddah his training base over the last month, and promoter Eddie Hearn hopes Joshua will leave Saudi Arabia a world champion yet again.

“This is our second fight in Saudi Arabia. The first one, ironically, was another rematch that Joshua had to try and win,” said Hearn of Joshua’s previous victory in 2019 against Andy Ruiz. “So, we’ve got good vibes about going back to the Kingdom. The aim for Saudi was always to try and do the undisputed Heavyweight World Championship. The biggest prize in the sport is the Heavyweight World Championship. So, when we did Joshua-Ruiz, the pandemic really slowed that development down. And when this fight came around, it was challenging principally, and everybody got in touch.

“We had a tremendous experience there last time. Joshua is very comfortable there, so much so that he’s been out there for weeks already. Normally, you’d come out a week before the fight, if you’re traveling, and he’s been there for four weeks. He loves it there. He’s feeling confident. And it’s a huge fight for boxing.”

Hearn said that the relative sanctuary of Jeddah has provided Joshua with an ideal preparation period away from the glare of media he would expect in his home country.

“Obviously, a lot of people know him in Saudi, but in England, he can’t breathe without someone taking a photo, someone bothering him,” said the British promoter. “He gives his time to everybody, and it can be quite draining. So, he loves the fact that he can be in Saudi. He loves it there, he feels comfortable there. And he can just chill with his friends in the hotel, he can go out, he can get coffee. His preparation’s been great. He’s got a new trainer for this fight in Robert Garcia. It’s a very tough fight. Usyk is pound for pound probably No. 1 in the sport.

“But Joshua is in a great place. He feels very comfortable in Saudi. And he’s ready.”

Boxing at the highest level may still be new to Saudi Arabia, but it is making big strides toward rivaling established hubs such as London and Las Vegas in terms of holding big-name bouts.

“I have incredible resources. Financially as well, they’re putting a lot behind the events,” Hearn said. “So, you’re going to get a first-class event in terms of arena, press conferences, hotels — everything is done to the highest possible standard, and we feel very comfortable. I couldn’t quite believe when I went back to Jeddah, six or seven weeks ago, the difference in the place that I saw four years ago.

“When you see a different place, you see so many changes, the vibrancy, the energy around the event. Joshua and Usyk were shooting the promo in the square, and people were excited. Prince Khalid [bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud], my good friend who really drives boxing in Saudi Arabia, has a vision for the sport and a love for the sport. And I know how much he cares for the sport. And that matters to me.”

Hearn sees that his aim to get his fighters the best possible fight deals aligns with Saudi’s own desire to promote the sport and, eventually, produce world-class boxers of its own.

“You must always try and get the fighters the best deal because it is a dangerous sport,” Hearn said. “But it’s more than that. There’s a real movement for boxing in Saudi Arabia, and we’re behind it, and I think next week you’re going to see not just a tremendous event but interest from the public there also. And as participation levels increase at a grassroots level, you’re going to start seeing fighters emerge. And when you see fighters emerge, that’s when everything will change there. Can you imagine how big it could be if a fighter went on and won an Olympic medal or won a world championship? It would be huge.”

Saturday night’s card in Jeddah will see the super lightweight Saudi-Egyptian fighter Ziyad Al-Maayouf take on Mexico’s Jose Alatorre.

“You need local fighters,” said Hearn. “It’s all very well coming to Saudi Arabia to say we are developing boxing in the region. But what are we developing? Boxing is so important on so many levels for young people. Fitness, mental health, physical health, discipline and respect. But you still want talent coming through. There’s no reason why over the years, if the coaching is good enough, we can’t see some good fighters emerge. It’s very important that you see those young fighters coming through.”

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic may have somewhat stalled the rise of boxing in Saudi Arabia, but Hearn believes the time is right to kick-start its growth again.

“The commercial interest, the participation interest, the interest from the public is getting bigger all the time,” he said. “When we filmed the promo in the square, you could see people were genuinely interested. The Ruiz fight did a lot for boxing in the Kingdom, but we lost a bit of momentum because of the pandemic. But interest is there, from a public perspective, from a commercial perspective, and it's a huge event in Saudi next Saturday.”

As a message to the fans, Hearn has promised a spectacular event on the Red Sea.

“Just enjoy. We’re desperate for Joshua to win,” he said. “He’s obviously a friend of ours, and we’ve been with him for his professional debut, but Usyk is, pound for pound, great. It’s going to be a tremendous fight, it’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere. It’s the World Heavyweight Championship. And we can’t wait to put on a huge event in Saudi Arabia next Saturday.”


Saudi sports minister chairs delegation at Asian Olympic council meeting

Saudi sports minister chairs delegation at Asian Olympic council meeting
Updated 02 October 2022

Saudi sports minister chairs delegation at Asian Olympic council meeting

Saudi sports minister chairs delegation at Asian Olympic council meeting
  • The delegation will highlight the Kingdom’s bid to host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 at TROJENA in the NEOM region

RIYADH: Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal will chair the Kingdom’s delegation at the Olympic Council of Asia executive board meeting and its general assembly in Cambodia on Monday.

The prince will lead the delegation in his role as president of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee (SOPC) and vice-president of the OCA.

The Saudi committee will include SOPC Vice-President Prince Fahad bin Jalawi, board member of SOPC Prince Abdullah Bin Fahad and NEOM CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr.

The delegation will highlight the Kingdom’s bid to host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 at TROJENA in the NEOM region in northwest Saudi Arabia. The bid will be submitted to a vote during the general assembly on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia will be the first west Asian country to host the Asian Winter Games if it wins the bid.

The meeting will also shed light on the preparations of Riyadh in hosting the 7th Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games 2025 and the Asian Games in Riyadh in 2034.


Japan wrestling trailblazer Antonio Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy

Japan wrestling trailblazer Antonio Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy
Updated 02 October 2022

Japan wrestling trailblazer Antonio Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy

Japan wrestling trailblazer Antonio Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy
  • The professional wrestler, martial artist, politician and promoter died on Saturday at the age of 79

RIYADH: Legendary Japanese figure Antonio Inoki, real name Muhammad Hussain Inoki, died on Saturday at the age of 79.

Inoki was a professional wrestler, martial artist, politician and promoter for both professional wrestling and mixed martial arts.

Born in Yokohama, Japan in 1943, he spent most of his childhood in Brazil where his family had relocated. There, he developed a passion for professional wrestling. Inoki was recruited by Rikidozan, one of the the most famous Japanese wrestlers of all time, and returned to Tokyo to join the Japanese Wrestling Association.

In his home country, Inoki became widely popular and revered for his versatility and for his charismatic demeanor in the squared circle. His contributions transcended achievements inside the ring, and he founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972.

Over the course of the next two decades, Inoki built NJPW into the most successful wrestling company in Asia, using talented competitors such as Tiger Mask, Dynamite Kid, Bob Backlund, and Vader.

In addition to running the promotion, Inoki himself was one of the top stars carrying the championship, stepping into the ring against the likes of Stan Hansen, Tiger Jeet Singh and Hulk Hogan.

He gained global fame in 1976 when he faced Muhammad Ali in a wrestler vs. boxer match in Tokyo. This encounter was credited for being a precursor to what is known today as mixed martial arts, and was one of the most watched fights of its generation. In addition to the sold-out crowd of more than 14,000 at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, it aired on closed-circuit across the world.

Shea Stadium in New York aired the bout on its big screen and drew a crowd of 32,897, with an undercard of pro wrestling and mixed-rules matches preceding the main event.

Outisde the ring Inoki used sport to forge peace and diplomacy. In 1990, he played a major role in freeing 36 Japanese hostages held in Iraq.

Inoki was also a outstanding ambassador for professional wrestling, bringing major events to places such as Russia and China.

He was also instrumental in organizing two large sporting events in Pyongyang in 1995, and another in 2014. The first event, known as “Collision in Korea” drew nearly 380,000 fans and is considered the biggest-pay-per-view in pro-wrestling history.

In 1998, Inoki retired from in-ring competition. In 2010, he was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame. An WWE statement said: “This passion for competition earned him the nickname ‘Moeru Toukon’ among his peers, which translates to ‘The fighting spirit that burns’.”

Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy as a competitor. He was 12-time professional wrestling world champion, notably being the inaugural IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the first Asian WWF Heavyweight Champion in a reign not officially recognized by WWE.

The cause of Inoki’s death was not released, but he had been ill in recent years and confined to a wheelchair.


LIV Golf set for first ever Middle East event in Jeddah

LIV Golf set for first ever Middle East event in Jeddah
Updated 02 October 2022

LIV Golf set for first ever Middle East event in Jeddah

LIV Golf set for first ever Middle East event in Jeddah
  • LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club will take place Oct. 14-16
  • Tournament will host the current Open Champion Cameron Smith and 12 major winners among the strong field

JEDDAH: LIV Golf is set to make its Middle Eastern debut in Saudi Arabia from Oct. 14-16 with 48 of the world’s best golfers competing in the penultimate event of the 2022 season.

The LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club will host the current Open Champion Cameron Smith and 12 major winners among the strong field, which also includes past Saudi International winners Dustin Johnson, Harold Varner III, and Graeme McDowell.

The first-of-its-kind individual and team format sees the professionals compete in 12 teams of four with a shotgun start accompanied by on-course music and entertainment to create energy and an incredible environment not often associated with golf. 

Featuring a $25 million prize purse, the contest is the final international stop in LIV’s inaugural eight-event season, having previously competed in the US and England. The week prior to Jeddah, the golfers will head to Thailand for the first event in the Asian continent at the newly opened Stonehill.

“LIV Golf can’t wait for our first stop in the Middle East, where interest in both sport and golf is growing,” said LIV Golf CEO and Commissioner Greg Norman. “We couldn’t be more pleased to bring the biggest names in golf to Jeddah and debut our innovative league.”

Majed Al-Sorour, managing director of LIV Golf, added: “LIV Golf is creating opportunities for players from all over the world to compete on a new global stage. After only five events, the results reveal incredible competition and entertainment that are engaging LIV Golf with an international audience. We’re excited to tee off at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club which will be an excellent test for the world’s greatest players.”


Fighter Dina Elias makes Saudi history with gold in international jiu-jitsu contest

Fighter Dina Elias makes Saudi history with gold in international jiu-jitsu contest
Updated 02 October 2022

Fighter Dina Elias makes Saudi history with gold in international jiu-jitsu contest

Fighter Dina Elias makes Saudi history with gold in international jiu-jitsu contest
  • Saudi contingent also bagged 1 silver medal, 3 bronzes at AJP Tour Asia Continental Pro championship in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Martial arts fighter Dina Elias made history at the AJP Tour Asia Continental Pro championship in Abu Dhabi with a gold-medal-winning performance that made her the first Saudi female to claim top spot at an international jiu-jitsu competition.

Her victory came on day two of the event taking place at the Jiu-Jitsu Arena in the UAE capital, a contest organized by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Jiu-Jitsu Pro.

Elias’ gold was achieved in the under-95-kilogram division (blue-belt category) and followed a third-place finish by compatriot Haya Al-Sheikh in the under-70-kg division (blue).

Other Saudi medalists were Abdullah Ndaa with a silver in the under-62-kg, under-16 class, and bronzes for Faros Majid in the under-94-kg (purple) category, and Badi Idris in the under-81-kg, under-18 section.


Sergio Perez wins in Singapore rain as Max Verstappen made to wait for F1 title

Sergio Perez wins in Singapore rain as Max Verstappen made to wait for F1 title
Updated 02 October 2022

Sergio Perez wins in Singapore rain as Max Verstappen made to wait for F1 title

Sergio Perez wins in Singapore rain as Max Verstappen made to wait for F1 title
  • First grand prix to be held under lights at the Marina Bay Street Circuit since 2019
  • Verstappen had a mathematical chance to clinch a second world title, but needed to win

SINGAPORE: Sergio Perez won a rain-affected Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday leaving his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen to wait at least another week to retain his Formula One world championship.
The Mexican took the chequered flag 7.5sec ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, but could be stripped of the victory by stewards who were investigating a possible safety car infringement.
Carlos Sainz was third to make it a double podium for Ferrari in the night race that started more than an hour late because of a storm.
It was the first grand prix to be held under lights at the Marina Bay Street Circuit since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Verstappen had a mathematical chance to clinch a second world title, but needed to win and have other results go his way. He finished seventh after a rollercoaster race.
The Dutchman was always going to struggle after starting eighth on the grid and his task was made trickier by an early evening deluge that delayed the start till 9:05 p.m. (1305 GMT).
When the field eventually tore away from the grid in a shower of spray, Verstappen almost stalled and dropped back from eighth to 13th.
The 25-year-old cut through the field before flat-spotting his tires trying to pass Lando Norris for fourth after a safety car restart.
“I was up with Lando and as soon as I braked, the front wheels jumped in the air and I went straight on,” said Verstappen who was forced to pit for fresh rubber and dropped to last place.
“It’s not what I’m here for. Not with a car like that. It was incredibly messy.”
It means his world championship lead over Leclerc has been cut to 104 points ahead of next week’s Japanese Grand Prix. Perez is two points behind Leclerc.
Verstappen will need to be 112 points ahead at the end of next Sunday’s race in Suzuka to retain his title and can do so if he wins and Leclerc fails to finish second.
Leclerc started on pole but Perez slipped past before the first turn and drove a perfect race to hold off the Monegasque for his second GP win of the season.
“It was certainly my best performance,” Perez said. “I controlled the race. The last three laps were so intense. When I got out of the car, I felt it. I gave everything today.”
Leclerc started on pole but had a sluggish getaway on intermediate tires in the slippery conditions allowing Perez to reach the first corner in the lead.
“I pushed all the way,” said Leclerc. “The bad start put us on the back foot and it was a really difficult race after that.”
Sainz started fourth and managed to force his way past Lewis Hamilton on turn one, but he felt he could never threaten the front two and crossed the line 7.7sec behind Leclerc.
“It was very tough out there,” Sainz said. “I never really got into a rhythm in the wet and then couldn’t challenge the top two guys.
“I had to settle for P3, but the good thing is I didn’t do any mistakes and could bring the car home and be quick toward the end of the race.”
The McLaren pair of Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were fourth and fifth, Lance Stroll sixth in the Aston Martin ahead of Verstappen.
Sebastian Vettel, the winner in Singapore the last time the race was run in 2019, was eighth, with Hamilton and the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly rounding out the top 10.
Hamilton had been in the battle for pole but had a torrid time, complaining early about his tires and later slithering into a barrier necessitating a new nose before coming home ninth.
“I think we started off with a really decent weekend, it was really unfortunate at the end,” said Hamilton.
“I was trying, obviously difficult to overtake, that lock up into turn seven, ugh, when those things happen your heart sinks a little bit.”